Tuesday, December 31, 2013

January 4, 2014 - A good start to the year

After the big buck temptations of November and the bubblies of December, this first Vintages release of 2014 traditionally presents a truckload of cheap and cheerful wines which one hopes will provide some pleasure without breaking the bank.  This release also has me hoping for a bin end sale to accompany it. We always need one of those so watch for news about that possibility. Regardless of whether there is a bin end sale or not, there are some wines in the first release of 2014 worthy of consideration. Best of all, they shouldn’t cause your wallet too much undo stress. If you were lucky enough to get an LCBO gift card for Christmas use it on some of the bargains this week. Or perhaps wait for the Holiday 1500ml’s to go on sale? 
The VRSS merits 62- 66 points. Remember, the scoring system starts like Parker’s 100 point system. In his system, a wine gets 50 points for showing up. Well I give a release 50 points just for getting printed on that nice glossy paper. From there, if I ‘must buy’ a wine that wine adds points to the score of the release. if a wine must be bought, whites and bubblies score 3 points each, reds merit 4. Unlike Parker’s system, a release can score more than 100 points but I haven’t seen it happen yet.
The Picks
Chateau La Bastide 2010 - $13.95 – 900 cases- Three of Three from Guide Hachette is exceptional at any price but especially at this price.  Ready to drink with a meal or on its own.
Cusumano Noa 2010 - $19.95 –1999 cases- A  Sicilian equivalent to the Tuscan Terriccio in the Big Bucks section,   just substitute Nero d’Avola for Sangiovese and save $10! If you must drink it now, this one’ll  benefit from a short decant, methinks.
Pierre Amadieu Les Grangelieres Vacqueyras 2011 - $19.95 –499 cases-  Among the  better  wines in the release even though the vintage wasn’t stellar. It’ll need a few months to calm down.
Seven Falls Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 - $18.95 – 167 cases – New to me, this one is from vineyards located on the Wahluke slope in the Columbia Valley. You know I like red wines from Washington St. This one is no different.  If you enjoy the  Columbia Crest H3 Cab, I think you’ll enjoy this one.
Domaine Tournon Shiraz Mathilde 2011 - $19.95 – 489 cases-From the Australian winery of Chapoutier, stylistically this’ll exhibit as much southern Rhone syrah as Australian Shiraz.
Zonte’s Footstep Avalon Tree Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 - $17.95 –255 cases- High quality juice from an Australian  winery with a silly name. All Zonte’s Footstep products seem to be well scored by North American critics.
Wakefield 2010 Shiraz -$17.00 – 4000 cases- Quality yes, but regardless of what the LCBO would have you believe, this really isn’t a bargain.
Geografico Montegiachi Chianti Classico Riserva 2009- $24.95 – 499 cases - This’ll need some time, but should be a smoking wine. Leave it in a cool, dark place for a year or so for it to begin to show its best.
Looking for a bargain cabernet? Try the St. Alicia from the Maipo valley in Chile. Maipo is home to many of the finest Cab Sauv’s coming from Chile, so this one at $14.95 is worth a shot. 419 cases.
Coppi Peucetico Primitivo 2007 – $13.95- 1000 cases- Looking for something inexpensive and  Zinfandel-esque  to accompany midwinter bbq’d burgers or ribs? This is always excellent and well priced.
Azul Portugal 2008 - $14.95 – 248 cases of 6-With the fanfare in this release it may go early but not to worry – any of the three from Portugal  will provide the same pleasure – but you have to like the Portuguese flavour profile.
The Bigger Bucks (comparatively speaking, that is.)
J.L. Chave Offerus St. Joseph – 2011 - $33.95 – 50 cases- An ISD or FSE  or perhaps make that a YCBI (you can’t buy it) so there’ll be very few and the few there are will be snapped up by the cognoscenti.
Castello del Terriccio Tassinaia 2006 - $29.95 – 399 cases- Among the more expensive bottles in the release  this is from a brilliant vintage in Tuscany. A Blend of 1/3rd each Sangiovese, Merlot and Cab sauv, this should be an interesting wine and right in its drinking window.
La Pieve Barolo – 2009 $29.95 – 500 cases- Wonderful price for a food friendly wine. This will also benefit from a bit of aging  to soften the tannins.

Welcome to the new year boys and girls.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

LCBO Gift Review - In a word, Wait!

LCBO Gift review
Every year at this time the LCBO promotes an array of gift products, many of which began to be highlighted in the Nov.09 Vintages catalogue.  Some of them are gag gifts, some are make you gag gifts and small number  are worth buying especially if and when they are marked down after Christmas. While the wines available are rarely serious collector items, some quite good ones are available especially in 1500 ml bottles. The combination of wine quality and large bottle size promotes graceful if slower ageing.  Perhaps the best news is that if they don’t sell out in the pre Christmas/ New Years frenzy and if the inventory quantities are right these big boys can be had for reduced prices early in the new year.  In the past I have purchased 1500ml bottles of very nice wines at or below the same price as Vintages was selling a 750 ml of the same wine. Yes you have to watch and be lucky but from time to time a bargain can be had at the monopoly. I’ll be tracking inventory in the following wines and recommend you do as well. They are my suggestions for the best wines among the gift items but best is a relative term here and I wouldn’t buy many, if any, at full price. The LCBO website will tell you what’s in the stores but once we get past Christmas and New Years it’s what’s in the warehouse that’ll really count.

The Frescobaldi Brunello Vertical is the only gift pack that I’d consider– one bottle of each of the 2005, 06 and 07 vintages packaged together. $149.95 it is a steep price to pay for this trio but you get a readymade mini vertical and at least two of the three years are superior vintages. Watch to be sure the ’06 and ‘07 bottles haven’t been switched out by other clever Vintages shoppers!

Of the big bottles, here are the ones to consider after Christmas.

Domaine du Vieux Lazaret Chateauneuf du Pape 2010- $74.95-This 1500ml bottle is from one of the better Southern Rhone vintages but the producer is not among my favourites. That said, if it becomes well priced it will age for 10-15 years and look like a screaming buy in five. Quantity wise, there are some but perhaps not enough of these to hit the post-Christmas mark down rack. What’s in the warehouse?

Rocco Guicciardo Chianti Classico Reserva 2010 – $49.95 – A personal favourite among  the Baron Ricassoli CCR offerings. This 1500 ml will be a great buy if it gets marked down to $40. but I don’t hold out much hope. There just don’t seem to be that many around. Again, what’s in the warehouse?

Descendientes de J. Palacios 2011 - $49.95 – Readers of the blog will recognize this wine as a perennial pick at 750 ml. Again, if it hits the mark down rack, this 1500ml is worth considering.

J. Lohr 7 Oaks Vineyard – $43.95 - Having a big group for dinner?  Can’t go wrong here.  Lots of stock but they do pretty much sell out in our market.

Marchesi di Barolo Cannubi Barolo 2008 - $129.95 – A 92 point gem that’ll age for two decades. It could outlast me but it’ll take a real price hit to get it low enough!

Stags Leap Artemis  Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 - $139.95 – There appears to be lots around and with it  being well over the $100 mark, there could be limited demand. The Stags Leap name holds some cachet though. It would take a serious price cut for this one to go below my self-imposed price ceiling per 750 ml bottle.

Any of  the Masi, Remo Farina and Tommasi Amarones will be OK if you’re a fan of the style. If you have a serious cellar and can find one marked down,  the 3000 ml Tommasi will provide a great looking accent bottle long after the contents have been enjoyed.

As for the rest of the offerings, I’ll take a pass.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

December 7 release - Another year come and gone at Vintages.

The final Vintages release of the year is traditionally the Bubbly release supported by a few big boys for you late Christmas shoppers. As well this release contains offerings for ‘Holiday Gatherings’. It appears the vintages team has tried to cross as many price points and wine styles as possible for this feature. Their strategy results in a somewhat muddled selection of wines with no focus or even trend. Speaking of muddled, if you’re driving anywhere this Christmas do not ask for directions from the Vintages editors. Once again they think Cahors is in the Rhone valley. That’s akin to telling you that Sarnia is just east of Cornwall on the St. Lawrence River.  Cahors should be categorized in the Southwest of France. Also, the wine that is listed under the Southwest is actually from the Languedoc-Rousillon which the LCBO usually categorizes as the Midi.  Perhaps a little early Christmas partying made the proof reading difficult?  

Back to the bubbly, I’m still trying to decide on a few wines to buy but the $$’s to palate ratio means Champagne doesn’t make the grade.  If I go nationalistic I might try to find some Stellers Jay from BC or perhaps a Hinterland from PEC, both from previous releases.  If I go international, there are a couple of new ones in this release that seem worthy - the Perlage Canah Brut Superiore Conegliano 2012 Prosseco (700 cases of 6) or the Juvé y Camps Cinta Purpura Reserva Brut Cava 2009 (300 cases of 12). Each of these is  under $20.

The final release of the year comes in with a VRSS total of 58 points. To arrive at that lofty level (cough) one of the wines was selected just to keep my vertical of it alive. Not an auspicious ending to what has been a pretty mundane year in Vintages.

Best Buys under $30
Beronia Reserva 2008 - $18.95 –1594 cases- Never mind what the review says, this is a modern style of Spanish Rioja, softer, smoother than most, black and blue fruits and maybe a wee bit plum-y and smokey. Can age but ready to drink now. On its own or with food this is much more than a good introduction to Spain.

La Ferme du Mont Cotes Jugunda Gigondas 2010 - $29.95 -299 cases– Just saying Cotes Jugunda Gigondas makes me smile.  A solid, ageable, meaty wine from a smokin' vintage. Look for garrigue, back fruit, perhaps a hint of iodine and licorice notes across the nose and palate.

Perrin Les Christins Vaqueyras 2011 -$23.95 – 249 cases- Annually this is a very solid wine from the Perrin family.

A trio of very solid Aussie Shiraz options:
  • Dandelion Vineyards Lionheart of the Barossa - $19.95 – (896 cases) A tossup between this and the Formula.
  • Small Gully The Formula Shiraz 2009 -$18.95 – (2100 cases) A tossup between this and the Lionheart.
  • Thorn Clarke Shotfire Shiraz 2011 -$21.95 – (503 cases) Trying hard to make it an Aussie ménage a trois but needs to lose a couple of bucks first.
Saltram Mamre Brook 2010 - $26.95 – (approx 800 cases of 6 for each) - Either the cab or the shiraz will provide ample pleasure on a cold winter night paired with a rich braised or roasted meat.

The Big Bucks
Vieux Donjon Chateauneuf du Pape 2011 - $57.95 – 149 cases- Perennially among the better wines of the Southern Rhone, the 2011 vintage slipped a bit. It’ll still command attention but unlike past years I don’t expect you’ll have to arm wrestle anyone for it first thing on Saturday morning.  Masochists should check out KL wines website for this wine. They give you two current reviews and their US price - $39.95. Oooo there's a spank that'll sting!

Domaine  Chante Cigale Chateauneuf du Pape Tradition 2010 - $41.95 –320 cases - The Domaine scored brilliantly in the  excellent  2010 vintage and now benefits from being on the same page as the subsequent  vintage’s slightly less impressive but more expensive  Vieux Donjon. Parker’s review for Chante Cigale is a little over the top but the wine will be excellent now and improve in 5 years.

Fattoria de Barbi Brunello 2007 -$49.95 – 349 cases- When priced around the early to mid $40’s, I considered  this one an early drinking Brunello option. The price has jumped a tad but the early drinking aspect has not changed.

Pietranera Brunello  Centolani 2007-$37.95 –(599 cases)- A really well priced, well scored  Brunello from an absolute corker of a vintage.

Killikanoon Reserve Cabernet Clare Valley  -2012 - $34.95 – Clare Valley Cab from a slightly cooler climate than many  of the  Aussie Cabs that we see, look for big things from this – cassis with an herby backbone.

Last but not least is a gimmick Christmas gift for the wine lover who has everything -  a blending kit from Raymond  winery in California. They offer a DVD, pipettes, graduated cylinders, and 4 bottles of wine,(2 cab sauvs each with a different oak treatment, a cab franc and a merlot), along with an instruction booklet.  That special someone can become a blendmeister for only $294.95! For that price, I’ll stick with selecting my wine ready made!

Friday, November 15, 2013

Vintages November 23rd - Liquid Bling

Next up on the Vintages front is the last release of November. Depending on your level of self control you may want to prepare for your wallet to run screaming from your pants. Or leap screaming from your purse. Or jump screaming from your European man satchel! Because no matter where your wallet is, at this time of year it should be afraid, very, very afraid!
As Vintages penultimate release each year this one has traditionally presented an expansive, expensive array of vinous options. The release contains some really big guns that are destined for the cellar but contains only a very few that are bargain basement priced. “But, are there any wines under $30?” you ask.  Yes.  “Are there many wines under $30 worth considering? “ A few.  “What about wines under that $50 price ceiling of yours?” Again, a few.  Certainly this release is top heavy with garnet beauties priced at or well over the $50 mark.  New entries have been added to the big dollar category this year so if you are looking for something really special, you might find it. It will however be up to you to do your own due diligence for those wines.
A special note for older wine fans, er make that fans of older wines.  I have suggested three from this release that are between 9 and 19 (yes nineteen) years old. Presumably their provenance has been  impeccable.
The VRSS scores 66-70 points. If I was a lottery winner, it would be much higher.
My Picks (Under $30)
Grant Burge The Holy Trinity - $29.95 – 499 cases - Since Rosemount’s GSM went to the cheap to ship  bottle and subsequently disappeared from our market, this has become my favourite Aussie GSM.  At just under $30 you can consider it either a shorter lived Chateauneuf or the equal of a very good Gigondas. It’s a superior wine when served with roasted meats or fowl but do not expect an Australian blockbuster.
Di Majo Norante Contado Riserva Aglianico del Molise 2010. 399 cases- At $17.95 and rated three of three by Gambero Rosso and 91 pts by Antonio Galloni, this is the best buy in the release if you are fans of an old world, more traditional style of wine.
Clos de los Siete 2010 –$21.95- 912 cases- The Argentine adventure of Michel Rolland’s Band of Seven continues to thrive. The vines are into double figures age wise resulting in a wine with more of everything but still available at a pretty good price. I would favorably compare this to Norton’s Privada. That  is a good thing.
Speaking of Argentine adventures, as well as the Clos de Los Siete , there are six Malbecs in this release priced between  $17.95 and $25.95. The LCBO bought plenty of each and my choices would be the second most expensive  Mendel 2010 and the mid priced Susanna Balbo Signature Malbec 2011 at $19.95. The latter will need some time to come around. I don’t think you can go wrong with any of the six.
Pesquiera Condado De Haza 2009 – $24.95 – 587 cases - A crianza of very good quality, if you can leave it alone for a year or two, do so. Dry with more red fruit than black, I really enjoy this medium bodied wine.
Rocca Di Castagnoli Poggi a’Frati Chianti Classico Reserva 2009 $29.95 – 298 cases – Superior wine from a good vintage. Ageworthy and continues a good the run of CCR’s in Vintages.
Domini de La Cartoixa Formiga de Galena 2009 - $25.95 – A reasonably priced Priorat offering that’ll present red fruits. The red ants on the stylish label are sure to garner attention, the wine backs it up.   
Chapel Hill Cabernet 2010 - $24.95 –598 cases - Juicy, black fruit from the McLaren Vale, expect cassis and possibly cedar but not nearly the mint notes you’d get from Coonawarra.   Red meat anyone?
D’Arenberg The Footbolt Shiraz – 2010 – 637 cases- $23.95. – Recommended for just horsing around. 
For fans of wines with some age, there are three that stand out in this release.  Under $30 is the Domaine de  Viaud  from the 2001 vintage in Bordeaux. There are 329 cases of this one at $28.95. Leading into the big buck zone are two Spanish wines that look interesting. The 1994 (yes, 1994!) Urbina Gran Reserva Especial at $46.95 (181 cases), and La Rioja Alta Vina Ardanza Reserva Especial  2004 $38.95 (199 cases). 
The Big Bucks (that I can afford)
Trapiche Single Vineyard Series -$39.95 - 497 cases of 6 –For the 2009 vintage and in recognition of the quality of their production, Trapiche chose the following Malbec  growers - Domingo F Sarmiento, Jorge Mirailles and Finca Suarez Lastra -for the honour of presenting  their wines in this special series. The latter was selected for their first time so it would have been interesting to try that wine if it was the one in this release. Is it? Nope. The Jorge Miralles might ring a bell for you – in Vintages October 26th release this wine was recommended as a big buck ISD (ooops FSE).  While it seems odd for Vintages to repeat a wine that was an FSE just a month earlier, stranger things have happened at the monopoly. It is indeed the Jorge Miralles again in this release.  As a matter of fact nice wooden boxes of it have been available in my local (non FSE) store for over a week. I can only presume some sort of silliness has taken place between the LCBO and the importer/ distributor Phillipe Dandurand.
Domaine La Roquete 2010- $49.95 – 149 cases- Since purchasing and assuming control of this domaine in 1986, the Brunier Brothers have done a terrific job restoring it to glory. Certainly it had some prized vineyard locations but there was much work to be done. Their efforts are paying off in superior wines but as the quality gets higher, so do the prices. For these bigger bucks you can expect a wine with mesquite notes, black fruits, ganache and a long finish. Sadly, long gone are the mid to upper $30 price points for this beaut!   While not a blockbuster this is a terrific, subtle wine to accompany a mixed grill, game meats or to savour on its own. If you must open this vintage soon, do decant it for quite some time.
Tenuta Sette Ponti Crognolo 2010- $31.95- 448 cases- With vineyards planted at 6,666 vines per hectare dare I call this a devilishly good wine?  Of course I do! A 90 pointer derived from grapes produced on 20 to 25 year old vines, this blend of cabernet, merlot, and sangiovese is annually a first rate wine. Baby brother to the Oreno - game meats or perhaps roast pheasant are just the ticket and I think it’s a buck less than the ‘09.
J.Lohr Hilltops Vineyard 2010 $39.95 – 619 cases of 6 - J.Lohr Seven Oaks is a very pleasant wine in the Vintages Essentials portfolio. Consider this its big brother. Twice the price for slightly more of everything.
Giacosa Fratelli Vigna Mandorlo Barolo 2006 - $49.95 –299 cases of 6 -  Consistent scores from WS and WE (93 points)  suggest this’ll be a terrific Barolo in the short or long term. On the other hand, if your palate aligns with Antonio Galloni you might consider taking a pass. He rated this at only 87 points  
Tenuta San Guido Guidalberto 2011-$49.95 –199 cases of 6 - Sassicaia’s baby brother,  this is a 60 – 40 blend of Cab sauv and merlot. Ready to drink younger than its higher priced sibling. An excellent wine.
Antinori Pian della Vigne 2008 - $59.95 – 850 cases of 6 - Over my ceiling and may not be the wine it was in ’97 or ‘98 but it still merits some consideration.
Mountadam ‘The Red’ 2009 – $34.95 – 199 cases- From the Eden Valley, this one garnered a 95 point review from James Halliday. You can consider his score inflated by a few points but 91 or 92 for this Cab Sauv/Merlot/Cab Franc blend is realistic. The Chapel Hill is a better buy in this style of wine.
Ladies Who Shoot Their Lunch Shiraz 2010 –$39.95- 595 cases of 6- While what was inside the bottle was good, the earlier marketing for this wine was pure genius. You can search this blog for some past highlights of it. The Fowles website has changed since then but they retain and proudly proclaim their opinion that there is nothing criminal about hunting/ killing the food you’ll eat.  As well, you can learn how LWSTL wines will compliment game meats.  

While we’re on the subject of marketing, each month in 2013 the Paso Robles wine alliance has released a video (they still have one video to go) which focuses on a different grape variety grown in the Paso area. Of course they continue to feature Paso Man aka Casey Biggs. As a pitchman he may not be ‘the most interesting man in the world’ or even the ’old spice’ guy but he comes across perfectly as the face of Paso Robles wines. (To me, he’s Don Ziraldo 2.0) Here’s the link, you be the judge. http://www.pasowine.com/media/videos.php  

Friday, November 1, 2013

Vintages Nov.09 - Here come The Holidays!

For me, Vintages November releases are among the most anticipated releases of the year.  Annually they provide a selection of interesting wines to augment my cellar. In the past there were always two (or more) wines that would have me visiting a number of stores to ensure I procured enough of each of the coveted labels. What happened this year? Certainly from this first November release the excitement seems to be missing. Am I getting jaded in my old age? Or just getting old?    
There are good sub $30 and good big buck options in this release, so don’t think that it is just a top heavy waste of paper. There are even a few very good under $20 wines available for you. My top 6 choices are the first three reds ‘Under $30’ along with the first three reds in the ‘Big Buck’ group.  As I consider my options it is still almost two weeks before the products will be available. There is a chance that the priority of my picks from the release could change but you can’t go wrong with any of the ones selected below. 
For now, the VRSS comes in over 70 points this week.   
As I often try to do, I’ve used  Michael Vaughan’s Vintageassessments.com to ascertain the case counts.  My thanks to him for making the info available to the public via his website. Those not familiar with his site should take a look at it.
The Under $30 Picks
Castello D’Albola Chianti Classico Reserva  2008 – $22.95 – 1400 cases - A WoM and Winner of 3 of 3 Bicchiere from two major Italian publications, this should be a buy for you to serve with anything Italian.
I expect a more traditional flavour profile here (less fruit and more saliva inducing acidity).
Bodegas LAN Vina Lanciano Reserva  2005 – $28.95- 239 cases – Whether it’s the red label crianza, the blue label reserva or another of the LAN lineup, Bodegas LAN is a superior producer of Riojan reds. This single vineyard option might be a sleeper in this release. Just don’t expect a fruit bomb.
Marchesi de Frescobaldi  Tenuta di Castiglioni 2011 - $21.95 – 1000 cases- Serving lamb with an Italian flair? Here’s the wine to accompany it. Best vintage I’ve had was the 2007 which Suckling gave 93 points while he was still at WS. This year his 92 point score is like a Christmas gift for the LCBO - 89-90 is realistic always. It’ll open tannic and soften with air. A Cab S/ Cab F/ Merlot/ Sangiovese blend.
Domaine Michelas St. Jemms Signature Crozes Hermitage 2010 – $24.95 – Syrah from the baby Hermitage. You get the short term pleasure if not the ageworthyness.  Look for black fruit, smoke and a tarry note on the finish.
Perrin Vinsobres Les Cornuds 2011 - $17.95 – 299 cases - Always a very pleasantly sophisticated wine (or is that sophisticatedly pleasant?), this vintage may not match up to 2010, but you’ll find enough acidity and fruity goodness to be happy.
Nashwauk Shiraz 2010- $19.95 – 1200 cases From the McLaren Vale, expect a big bold wine with black licorice, black cherry notes.
Ninquen Antu Syrah 2011 - $17.95 – 699 cases- Deciding what to wear could be the toughest thing about this wine. History asks “Do you wear your lederhosen to accompany this chocolate Black Forest cake in a glass or your Timmins tuxedo to go with all that wood?”
Bellingham The Bernard Series Old Vine Chenin Blanc 2012 –$22.95 – The lone white that caught my eye, this is $7 to $10 more expensive than some recently recommended Chenin Blancs. It might be worth it.  
Antinori Chianti Classico Reserva 2009 - $29.95 –597 cases - A superior Tuscan producer gives you the big factory take on CCR. Consistently very good and lots of it.
Wakefield Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 $17.95 -1023 cases– A well priced offering from Australia which always over delivers.  Proof of its popularity is in the number of cases.
Rustenberg John X Merriman  Cabernet 2010– 2010 - $24.95 – 30 cases - An ISD, sorry FSE,  so that explains the tiny quantities but it’s a good, if very rare, wine.
Descendientes de J Palacios  Petalos 2011 - $24.95 – 539 cases - The mencia grape from Bierzo in Spain. Always a classy label that makes for a great host/ hostess gift if you’re dropping in at friends. Most years the wine backs up the label with equal class, quality and finesse. What’s it taste like? To me - Pinachyrah – (Pinot Noir, Grenache and Syrah notes– YMMV).
Kaiken Ultra Cabernet Sauvignon – 2010 - $19.95 – 1364 cases  - WoM so lots of it. A very good, solid wine. 
Cicchitti Gran Reserva 2004 – 21.95 – 239 cases- Annually a very good malbec. Note that this is a 2004 so it may have lost some of the primary dark fruit that I find so engaging in young malbec.
Columbia Crest Grand Estates Amitage 2010- $16.95. – 559 cases - This is an unusual blend of syrah, cab franc and merlot.  I’ve not tried this one before but the producer is so solid.
The Big Bucks
Remember, these are my big bucks, so $50 is the ceiling unless I suffer a moment of serious weakness. (It happens!)  
Pierre Amadieu Le Pas de L’Aigle Gigondas 2010 - $32.95 – 249 cases- A very good producer, region, and vintage. It’s hard not to choose it. So I did. All the Gigondas notes will be  there - dark fruits, herbs, some licorice.
Elderton Ode to Lorraine – 2010- $39.95  (467 cases of 6) - Big, brooding but at the same time fruity, this is always a terrific blend from the Elderton folks.
Francis Ford Coppola’s Director’s Cut Cabernet $34.95 –447 cases - To my palate this line is far superior to the Coppola Vineyards’ other cab labels. 
Domaine Durieu Lucille Avril Chateauneuf du Pape 2010- 299 cases – The best thing that could have happened to this wine was pairing it on a page with the Vieux Telegraphe.  At $45 and 94 pts it looks like a bargain. Needs time, serious time.
Burrowing Owl Syrah 2010 - $41.95 – Get together with a bunch of friends and order a case direct from the winery in BC. You can, it’s your own small political statement and in the end it’ll save you a few bucks.
The Chocolate Block – $39.95- 448 cases - From South Africa, you might want to try serving this and the Chilean syrah Ninquen Antu  together.  Maybe with a something in a chocolate mole sauce, or perhaps Coco Puffs.
Donnatella Cinelli Columbini Brunello di Montalcino 2007 – $48.95 – 299 cases -A wonderful vintage in Brunello. New to me, this’ll need another 5-7 years to begin to show its best.
Adaptation 2010  Cabernet Sauvignon $49.95. 223 cases - From Plumpjack in Napa, this is a NAPA cab for sure. Cassis, cedar, but then other dark and red fruit notes.
Jonata Todos 2009 - $59.95 – 166 cases - Misnamed methinks, should have called it Smorgasbord instead.  Expect a circus in your mouth. I dare you to pick out a dominant flavour as this wine is a veritable blendfest.  
Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 - $59.95 – Another of the good, but pricey Californians available in this release. If you read this soon enough I think I’d skip this one and buy the Stag’s Leap that’s on sale until early Nov.  Save yourself $15.  
 Two Hands Bella’s Garden 2011 –$59.95- (599 cases of 6)- Always exceptional, this is possibly the lowest score  I’ve ever seen attributed to this wine.
D’Arenberg The Dead Arm 2009 - $54.95 –(516 cases of 6)- A former icon that, like many big name Australians, fell on hard times. This might be a comeback vintage for the Dead Arm. Certainly the LCBO thinks it’ll sell. Me too, but only at $10 less than this price.
Domaine du Vieux Telegraphe Chateauneuf du Pape 2010 - $88.95. 299 cases – Last on the list but first on my wish list, the critics’ scores and this price have driven the VT way past the point where I can consider it. Too bad! When I could afford this wine, I really, really enjoyed it! 

Friday, October 25, 2013

Vintages Last of October - Bordeaux and the US Pac.NW

October 28th brings with it the Bordeaux 2010 feature. Yawn. That’s just my palate, don’t take it personally. The second feature this week is the U.S.Pacific Northwest.  A Pacific Northwest feature should yield some rare delights from Oregon and Washington State. What do we get? The expected  Pinot Noirs and a Gris from Oregon and from Washington, three wines that are oft available in Vintages but which sell out quickly.  Why use a feature to repeat the same old, same old?   Especially from Washington where there are plenty of medium to big buck options available (whether they be Cabs, Syrahs or Merlots) without having to resort to retreads. Up price, Abeja, Baer, Bookwalter, Januik  to name a few or the less well  known and less pricey  Millbrandt or Glaze or Waterbrook? 

Since the LCBO saw fit to reiterate Marie Antoinette’s infamous “Let them eat cake!” in their marketing this week, let’s stay with the guillotine theme and chop off the VRSS at 60 points. It would be 64 but I can’t bring myself to get in the scrum nor drop the bucks for the Amon Ra.  If this release is a sign of things to come, this fall does not bode well for the cellar. It does bode well for my bank account though.

The Picks (not many this week)
Vinum Africa  Chenin Blanc 2011 – $15.95 - Try this one for a tasty, zippy, fruity accompaniment if Thai or spicy seafood is on the menu. Good choice.
Zolo Cabernet -2010– One of the latest options of the ‘$17.00 that should be $15.00’ wines.  Very well scored, this might be a good wine to serve if you’re having a Christmas open house. Of course if you do, your guests might never leave.
The Columbia Crest Grand Estates and H3 Merlots  as well as the Charles Smith Cabernet are good wines but you can find similar options quite often in Vintages.  Like the Zolo above, the Grand Estates is a great choice to serve at an open house. Not too overpriced, it’s food friendly yet very good on its own. It’s sure to please.   
OZ appears to be this week’s Spain. There are a few Shiraz Grenache blends this week from $17 to $29.00 and a couple of good Shiraz between $17 and $25.
Travaglini Gattinara 2007 $29.95 – Think of it as a Barolo without the full price tag.  Ageworthy and still tannic even after six years.
The BIG Bucks
Glaetzer Amon Ra 2010 – A renowned Australian wine.  Can’t afford the Grange or Hill of Grace (who can?)? This is your ticket!  It is close to a match for the Elderton Command or the E and E Black Pepper Shiraz. But, 64 cases of 6 is all there is. Watching the scrum at the Cornwall St. Store will be an interesting way to spend about 45 seconds on Saturday morning!
Trapiche Single Vineyard Series 2009 –$39.95 - Jorge Mirailles Vineyard – Annually, Trapiche selects their best single vineyards and from these, they produce a special series of wines named for each of the vineyard managers.  Quality permitting, usually three Single Vineyards are selected and the resultant wines are among the very best produced by Trapiche. Massive, opaque, just made for red meat.  

Yacochuya 2006 $46.95– From Michel Rolland, this bad boy is a big one and right in its drinking window. Expensive though!

One mention of a Vintages Essential this week as well. WineAlign recently voted the The Stag's Leap Cabernet as the best  wine available in Canada in the $25 to $50 category. It's on sale for a couple of weeks at $5 off. Down from $49.95 to $44.95. I guess the new vintage must be coming in. Winealign had a number of criteria for the wine to be chosen, go to their blog to read about the process. It's a very well run operation with pretty much the who's who of English Canadian wine critics involved.

Friday, October 4, 2013

October 12 Vintages - Napa and Barolo/Burgundy - Kaching!

It’s time to strap on your big boy face if you’re going to go near  the Vintages section this week. With the Oct.12th release,  which features a selection of Napa wines ably backed up by a second feature on Barolo/Burgundy,  Vintages unofficially begins its autumnal upswing  in pricing. This culminates with the final three pre-Christmas releases. 

Of all the countries represented in the current release, it would appear that once again Spain will provide (alliteration alert!) the best and biggest bang for your buying buck. The 7 Spanish options average 91-92 points according to the quoted reviews of professional tasters and magazines yet cost on average about $26. Contrast that with the reds in the Napa release which come in at an average price of well over $58 and it’s pretty easy to see where you’ll get more value.  

I just checked my cellar in preparation for this release.  The fact that it resembles a Tokyo subway car at rush hour combined with my enforced price ceiling has a direct impact on the VRSS this week. The result is a paltry 58 points score. As a ‘must buy’ only the under $20. Tres Picos makes the grade for me.  Two others have me weakening. The Torres Salmos is calling my name and should I win the lottery, I’d be all over the Oreno.  That said, here are the others that do appeal to my palate.
The Picks
Borsao Tres Picos Garnacha 2011-$19.95- Tremendous Grenache – raspberry/blackberry coulis galore! Last release of this was an amazingly tasty wine. I scored some of the Breca from a few releases ago. Maybe a blind tasting is in order.
If you’re a fan of garnacha or tempranillo, any of the Spanish options should fill the bill for you!

Two from the Rhone - Domaine St. Pierre Vacqueyras 2010 –$24.95- From the renowned 2010 Vintage, this should be ready to drink now. A heady mix of Grenache and syrah, expect coulis, garrigue (herby notes) and perhaps a hint of fennel or licorice.
Domaine la Fourmone Tresor du Poete Vacqueyras 2010 – 22.95 – See above.

Two from Oz – $24.95 - Schild Estates 2010 Barossa Shiraz – made it back into the WSTop100 last year after getting a good spanking and being sent to its room for some questionable conduct. It’s a good wine. Big, ripe black fruit, olive tapenade or seaweed maybe on the finish.  Like many OZ brands, I think Schild is moving upscale for future vintages so look for more single vineyard and old vine reserve  type options from them and grip your wallet accordingly.
Wynn’s Black Label Cabernet 2010 $27.95 - On par with last release’s Pirramimma Cab but with a bit more mint or menthol notes from the Coonawarra eucalyptus. Last release had Wynn’s second label (similar to Katnook Founders Block, Elderton Friends) to support the rising price of this wine. Annually I whine about buying it on close out from the General List for $16.95 some years ago and how I have a hard time to spend this much more for the same quality wine from a country with a wine glut. This’ll be the last year for the whining, I promise. It is a very good wine, just not for me at this price.

Two from Cali – under $30 – the Loius Martini  2011 Cab is solid and the Stonehedge reserve might be OK but I am not familiar with it. Any of the three recommended cabs from last release or the Wynn’s from this one are better options than these two.

Luca Malbec 2011 – $29.95 - From the Catena family, this is their mid-to upper level  category of wines. The Luca  Chardonnay is among my favourite global Chardonnays. Like the chard, this malbec is well crafted from prime vineyard locations but yes it is getting expensive.  For a match made in heaven, decant it, grill a T-bone steak and you’ll quickly forget the expense!

The Big Bucks
Torres Salmos 2010 - $36.95 – Think of it as a Spanish CdP. From the Priorat region of Spain and like a very good CdP,  it will benefit from time. Buy one, leave it horizontal in a shadowy corner on the cold floor of your basement and forget about it. In 3 or 4 years, when you rediscover it and savour it, you’ll find yourself crawling around in the dark on said floor sadly asking “Didn’t I buy more?”   OK, perhaps that’s over the top, but this should be a great wine.
Sette Ponti Oreno 2010 - $71.95 – A Tuscan take on a Bordeaux blend, to me, this wine is among the best Tuscan offerings of the entire year. Duplicate the handling instructions for the Torres Salmos above. 
Luis Canas Seleccion de la Familia Reserva 2005 - $34.95 –  Ageworthy tempranillo that can be enjoyed today.
San Lorenzo Bramante Brunello 2007 - $47.95 – Ready to drink but ageworthy as well.
Cavalli Tenuta Degli Dei 2009 - $49.95 – Just squeaks in under the $50 ceiling and as a bonus is you can tell your wife (or yourself!) that you bought her a designer original!
Napa – The Freemark Abbey will be OK, but for that price, I think you can do better from other regions.  The balance of the Napa options are just too much $$’s for  me.
Giacosa Bussa Barolo 2008 – Sneaks in under $40, red fruits, smoke and will need some time.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

September 28 - The First of Fall - Tuscany, Turkey and Chile (but just barely)

September 28th  and it’s the first release of fall. Three features this time around, the first  focusing on Tuscan options but wait, didn’t we just focus on Italy? As a tribute to the upcoming World Series, the second  feature is little more than a bunt sign of a feature on Chile - What, you blinked and missed it?  How can you tell this is a wine retailer run by government bureaucrats?  Four pages that sell nothing accompanied by  one page with one wine and one page with four out of the six pages devoted to Chile.  How perfect that the next page has a big turkey on it. I thought it was an editorial comment on the Chilean feature but it's actually the first page of the Thanksgiving one.
Looking at the cover when I first received the release, I thought “This’ll be very good”.  Upon further review, it’s not. It’s OK. There are some worthy wines, three sub $25 Cabs. I think you’ll find them tempting if your palate aligns with mine. They are definitely three different, new world perspectives on the Cabernet Sauvignon grape (sometimes with a little help from its friends).

Back to the turkey, I think the best wine to serve with it is not in the feature but rather is the $25.95 Stellar’s Jay from Sumac Ridge.  Is that Carole Pope I hear off in my subconscious? “Birds of a feather, flock together.  Yes they do, Yes”  Whoa, here comes a Nona Hendryx flashback too! The wine has enough acidity to cut the rich gravy yet with fruit to match nicely to the raisins and apricots in your stuffing.

The VRSS says 62-64 points again. On to the picks!

The Best Reds
LaPostolle Cuvee Alexandre Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 - $24.95 –  Tied for my number one pick  in the release. Tuck it away for a few months to allow it to settle and to get the best from it.  An Excellent wine – almost on par with the Concha Y Toro Terrunyo cab and about $5 less.
Gallo Frei Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 - $19.95 – At this price I had to look twice to see if this was the 375ml bottle. Turns out it’s not! If you like red and black fruit followed by flavours of smokey tar on the finish then this is for you. Tied for numero uno in the release.
Pirramimma Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 $24.95 – Among my favourite Aussie producers, their Shiraz, Petit Verdot and Cab are always first rate. Black fruits galore here!
Capezano Barco Reale di Carmignano 2010 - $16.95 – Underpriced for the quality. Worthy of your consideration. A cab / Sangiovese blend.
Tenuta di Trecianno Daniello Toscano 2008 -$29.95 – Decant this bad boy, or drop it in the cellar and forget it for a few years. Even decanted this one is probably not for immediate consumption.
Beronia Elaboraccion Especial Tempranillo 2010 - $!7.95 – Very tasty option from Spain. Always very good and aimed at a more global palate. Smooth fruit.
Luis Canas Crianza Rioja 2009 - $17.95 – Will benefit from some time in a cool dark place.
Fattroia Carpoli Sada Integolo 2010 – $18.95 - New to me but well scored and priced.
Oscars Estate Vineyard Shiraz Viognier 2010 $17.95 – Recommended in spite of Nathalie Maclean’s dreadfully overblown  review. This might be a 90 pointer. Shiraz with a touch of viognier to round out the aroma and flavour profiles.
Dirty Laundry and Burrowing Owl Merlot 2009 – In each case I think you can buy them direct from the winery.  Consider that option and think of it as your opportunity to make a political statement.
Chateau du Cedres 2009 - $21.95 – A malbec from Cahors, this is a terrific producer and given the quality of the vintage, this should be a very good, old world take on the grape.  Needs some time. Expect tannins, and black fruit.
Chateau Maris Las Combes  Minervois Cru La Liviniere 2009 - $25.95 – A Southern Rhone type blend. This should be nicely in its drinking window. Expect smoky  red fruitiness, or is that red fruity smokiness?

Big Bucks
Don Melchor Cabernet Sauvignon $79.95 – Good news and Bad news.  The good news, this is an exceedingly  high quality wine from Concha Y Toro and if it was from California it’d be $100. The bad news, it’s from Chile and not so many years ago it was under $45. Vintages Classics now has the 2003 listed for around $120. That’s insane! Save your bucks and if your Cab Sauv must be Concha Y Toro, buy the aforementioned Terrunyo when it becomes available.
Paul Hobbs Crossbarn –$47.95 -  A nice cabernet, this one seems to have jumped about 10 bucks(ok, $8) in a year. Maybe that’s where half the Frei Ranch markup went!
2 Brunellos ( Brunelli?), both in the $40 + range, but neither really excite me.
2 Hands Lilly’s Garden Shiraz -$59.95 – One of the Garden series wines from 2 Hands. Annually a very, very, good wine.

Ridge Three Valleys 2011 - $35.95 – A California Blend, the majority zinfandel, great for beef or anything grilled.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

September 14 - Ontario wines and the end of summer

September 14 release. Sorry for the late posting but I was in BC for a week enjoying the sunshine, wines,  golf, kayaking, as well as some fine fish and seafood. 
Yes this is the last release of summer 2013. Is it a worthy release for this auspicious occasion? Nah! It appears to be just much more of the same from our friends at Vintages. It gratuitously presents wine writers opinions of Ontario wines (Here’s the Coles notes version  -  ‘Please look at me, experts say I’m special’). The release also presents  a nice little restaurant travelogue in a ‘Come eat here cuz I like Ontario wines’ kind of way.  I thought that the LCBO was selling beverage alcohol, not pimping restaurants.  Wait a second,  why not do an equivalent article pimping Ontario wine bloggers? Blog traffic skyrockets, Google Bucks start flowing in! We can turn our blogs into money making enterprises and not have to worry about all that restauverhead (see what I did there?).  As a mystery blogger  I’ll pose for a pic perched before my PC  in my gonch and motorcycle helmet swirling a nice Cabernet and looking every bit the world weary, motorcycle riding, wine aficionado that I think I am!  Also, I’ll appeal to the 1%’ers out there which will help to satisfy the LCBO’s quest to appeal to minorities. Can’t get more minority than that! 
Back to the release!  A few interesting wines. Most of the balance, uninspiring.
In spite of the paucity of recommended wines, the few I liked, I really liked so the VRSS score is 62-64 points.  
Norman Hardie PEC Chardonnay 2011 $35.00 – I love the county and it’s my blog so I can like this wine if I want to!  And I do want to! This has become a cultish icon among Canadian wines and is priced accordingly.  Stormin’ Norman should go into the Canadian Wine Hall of Fame for no other reason than Matt Kramer’s WotY mention. That little paragraph introduced (exposed?) Norman’s wine to the world (well to the US anyway).  By simple geographic proximity, all of PEC has benefited.  Is it a great wine?  Try it heads up against a good Chablis or Pouilly Fuissé and you be the judge.   
Alain Jaume Vacqueyras Le Grand Garrigue 2010 – $24.95- On August 25th I had a bottle of the 2009 vintage from an earlier release (at $22.95 by the way).  It was served at home with an opener of saganaki, then ably accompanied  spicy lamb skewers with an equally spicy tahini sauce alongside the Mediterranean flavours of fresh oregano and peppery olive oil on a feta and tomato salad. The spiciness of the lamb/ tahini brought out the pepperiness of the 20% syrah in the Vacqueyras blend. And of course 2010 was a gold star vintage. While ready to drink anytime, you can certainly give this a few more years in your cellar. I’ll pick up more than a few of this one, even at this price!
Mas d’Auzieres Les Eclats 2007 – $17.95- Really? 2007? Brother to Sypathie pour les Stones  which  was a recommended wine a year or so ago. This one should give you a good idea of how your Midi 2010’s will be in a few years time. I think the vintages are similar. This of course assumes that you were and are able to keep your hands off your samples from the later vintage.  I was not!  I do recommend you  consume this ’07 in the near future.
As in the previous release, Spain has come to the front with an apparently  terrific selection of wines. The one that appeals most to me is the Bodegas LAN Gran Reserva 2005 at $28.95.
Big Bucks
Ste. Michelle Ethos – Wow, Part One. $44.95. It might be worth it BUT I had a bottle of the previously recommended Ste. Michelle Canoe Ridge Cabernet at almost $10 less than this and it was sooooo good.  Rich, mouthfilling, lot’s of spice, cedar , black currants and other black fruit.  It was a natural combination served with rare filets, baked potatoes and  caesar salad. So, I repeat, $44.95? Rather than buy two of these I think I’lI just buy 2 more Canoe Ridge and an H3 until they’re gone. Another enticing option for a left coast cab might be last release’s Beringer Cab at $49.95.
M. Chapoutier  La Bernardine 2010 - $49.95 – Wow, part two! Too much $’s. There are lot’s of 2010 CdP’s around for much less.
Jim Barry The McRae Wood Shiraz 2008 - $56.95 – Wow part three! Top of the line price for a top of the line Aussie Shiraz. Give it some air. Rare though, it’s an ISD.

Corte Pavone Brunello Di Montalcino 2007 - $49.95 – 96 points from Monica Larner. Not cheap but hard to argue with the score.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Vintages August 31st release - 90 pointers, Champers I can't afford and a geography lesson.

August 31st already! I was going to proclaim this the final release of the summer but we still have over three weeks of September days before the arrival of the autumnal equinox so that’d be premature. And we all know there’s only one thing worse than a premature proclamation. Those three September weeks translate into one more (probably forgettable) Vintages release before autumn officially arrives. 
So instead of end of summer proclamations, let’s start this week’s review with a brief geography lesson for our friends at Vintages. Cahors is in the Southwest of France, roughly east and a bit south of Bordeaux. It is not anywhere near Burgundy and should not be included in that region.  Red wines from Cahors are predominately made with malbec grapes. Red wines from Burgundy, pinot noir!  End of lesson.
On to the release - the first feature is a big batch of 90 Point (+) Wines. Some of them might even merit their advertised scores. The second feature is one I like to call ‘Champagnes that no one with any sense should buy’.  No wonder I drink Cava, Prosecco,  the various Cremants and the odd Canuck bubbly!
The VRSS scores the release anywhere from 62 to 66 points. It has some good sub-$20 variety and quality but few wines that absolutely demand to be purchased.

The Reds, in order*
*= subject to some shuffling if my mood changes, the top 5 or 6 are all worthy of consideration but are very different wines
Rivera Cappellaccio Riserva 2006 - $17.95 – This wine has entered its prime drinking window yet even at this price it still shows the ability to age further. A good buy. (Words not often said when talking about the LCBO!).  93 in a recent review from Antonio Galloni.  Look for tannins, black fruit, hints of licorice and spice, I suggest decanting.
Breca Old Vines Garnacha 2010 - $19.95 – A brilliant wine according to Robert Parker, this is one that’ll probably have folks scrambling to buy in bulk. If you like raspberry ganache, I expect you’ll adore this one!
Poggio alle Querce Il Guado Bolgheiri 2009 -$22.95 – An Italian take on the traditional international Cab and Merlot blend, this one earned a great review from Bruce Sanderson in the Wine Spectator but is not included in the 90 point wines feature. Even paired with rare lamb or beef, it could still use a few years in a cool, quiet, dark place to really show its stuff.
Perrin  Cotes du Rhone Villages Cairanne Peyre Blanche 2011 - $17.95 – Annually it’s neck and neck  between this wine and the Perrin Vinsobres for the best bargain from this excellent producer.  2011 seems to be no different. So far the Cairanne is ahead by a nose (yes that is a terrible wine pun)!
Pierre Amadieu Romane Machotte Gigondas 2011 – $24.95 - From two vineyard sites  (La Romane, La Machotte hence the name), this is not the prestige label from this very good producer but is a superior wine nonetheless. Those who might have purchased the 2010 can now compare the two vintages – the brilliant 2010 and the not quite so inspiring but still very good 2011.
Mandrarossa Cartagho 2009 - $19.95 – 3 glasses  of 3 from Gamberro Rosso, if you like  Nero D’Avola
Domaine Le Grand Retour Plan de Dieu 2011 - $13.95 –We’re pretty much finished with the southern Rhone  2010’s now so you bargain hunters will have to wrap your palate around the next vintage of the Cotes du Rhone Villages. This named village is bargain priced  - great for burgers on a weeknight but sophisticated enough for far more.
Los Clop Cabernet 2009 or Malbec 2009 – $16.95 – Given my unsophisticated language skills,  my pronunciation of this  winery’s name sounds like a Clydesdale on concrete. Do not hold my linguistic failings against these wines. Both are from the Mendoza and both received 90 point scores.  They’re new to me but the reviews and the prices are definitely right.
Achaval Ferrer Malbec  2011 – $24.95 - Always a winner but has steadily increased in price over the last few years moving it down the list of options.  Should be priced at the $21.95 price point as there are many almost as good in the $18 - $22 range (or priced even better, see Los Clop for a sample perhaps). A-F seems to be following the same marketing plan as the Penfolds brand. Might work, might not.
Domaine Fontaine du Clos Reflets de l’Ame Vacqueyras 2011 – $20.95 - Not yet recommended, I’ll have to try one of these first – stay tuned.
Fonterutoli Chianti Classico 2010 $24.95 – A young chianti, open in advance and allow to air.
Once again reflecting its status as a bargain hunter’s delight Spain has three more entries that look to be worthy of very serious consideration.    
Luis Canas Reserva 2005 – From the esteemed 2005 vintage in the Rioja, this is another pretty good buy at $22.95.
Bodegas del Abad Dom Bueno 2008 - $15.95 - From the Bierzo region and made from the Mencia grape (tastes like Pinacheyrah to me). Here in North America both were largely unknown until the last few years but they’ve become a favourite of wine trendoids everywhere.  The trendoids won’t tell you why but it’s because Bierzo wines are generally inexpensive!  Also, even at 5 years old you can leave this particular one alone for a while.
Barco de Piedra Tinto 2011 - $17.00 – Another of the Food and Drink $17 that should be $15 wines. Well reviewed, this one should be right in its drinking window.

And now three under $20’s from Oz – The Billi Billi shiraz might merit 90 but not 94, and there are opening price point labels from two quality producers – Elderton Friends  Shiraz and Katnook’s Founder’s Block Cabernet. Having a crowd for an end of summer BBQ? Can’t go wrong here.

Chateau Pinerai Cahors 2009 - $15.95 – Cahors, South West France, not Burgundy! To receive 2 stars from the Guide Hachette at this price is like a fast food joint getting a star in the Guide de Michelin.  Want to compare old and new world malbecs? Try this one against the Los Clop perhaps.
Two Whites
Excelsior Chardonnay 2012 - $12.95 – Really? This review looks too good to be true for this price. Should not be overoaked, but should provide a tiny hint of butteriness on a slightly sweet, fruit driven  finish.
Falchini Vigna a Solatio Vernaccia di San Gimignano 2012 - $16.95 – Recommended only because I spent a week this past summer a few kilometers from San Gimignano. Minerally and slightly bitter on the finish, not for you buttery chard fans by any stretch of the imagination!

Big Bucks
(My big Bucks are not nearly big enough to include any of the champers)
Beringer Reserve Napa Cabernet 2010 - $49.95 – An excellent Napa offering from Beringer. Expensive though!
Villa I Cipressi Zebras Brunello di Montalcino 2006 - $45.95 – Both the name and the interesting label reflect  the owner’s fascination with zebras. The label is taken from a mural that is actually painted on the walls of the winery’s cellar. From the very good 2006 vintage, this is almost riserva quality from this producer. Very ageworthy.

Dauvergne Ranvier Grand Vin de Chateauneuf du Pape 2010 - $36.95 – A new (to me) CdP from the esteemed 2010 vintage. This has a richly adjectival text review from James Molesworth lthough the numerical score may not reflect his effusive wordiness. ;-)

Monday, August 12, 2013

August 17th - A rosé with star power, less common Italians, and an old favourite returns in big numbers.

Let’s get this out of the way right off the bat. Yes, this release has the Brad and Angelina Miraval  rosé from Provence.  The LCBO, ever the celebrity stalker, managed to buy 996 cases of it and will be making them available to the lucky Ontario public for $24.95 per bottle.   Expensive as it is it’ll probably sell quickly for three reasons – the hype of the big names, the curiousity factor, and it appears to be in a very different, stylish bottle so it’ll stand out among the acres of rosés populating the shelves. Reviews have been generally positive for it but…..
The Aug.17th release features ‘Off the beaten track’ Italian wines. Certainly there are many that are made from red grapes other than nebbiolo, sangiovese, and the international grapes like merlot or cabernet sauvignon. As well, the whites are a departure from Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio. It is nice to see Vintages try to push them a bit to expand their merchandise lines and our palates. Also in this release are Australian whites. Again, there are some unusual grapes and grape combinations (perhaps uncommon is a better word than unusual) than the normal Aussie Chards. OK, ok there is a chard too.  As well there are a few new to Vintages products, and  new vintages and rereleased vintages of old favourites.   
The VRSS  crawls into the  62 point  territory, mostly because I finished my last H3 cab and my last Clos de Sixte in the last few weeks.  
Top 3 Picks Under $25
Columbia Crest H3 Cabernet Sauvignon  2010 $19.95 – 1799 cases – This should be $15 at the most  (Google is your friend, look it up!).  Pricewise we’re taking a real beating here but this wine is good enough to make you forget about that! It’s a very good, very consistent wine and under $20. Consider a case buy or perhaps try to find 6 Rust en Vrede’s marked down cab and go for 6 and 6.
Alain Jaume Domaine Grand Veneur  Clos De Sixte Lirac 2010 - $23.95 – 398 cases – Jaume’s Lirac is among my favourites of the non-Gigondas/ Vacqueyras/ CdP Southern Rhone villages.  For this wine the 2007 has been the benchmark for me. I think the 2010 is not quite there but it is very, very  good. Timing is everything, I finished my last bottle of the previous release of this vintage just a week or so ago! And yes it is a dollar more than last November.
Beronia Reserva 2008 - $18.95 – 1100 cases – Plenty of cases of this popular, high quality  Spanish option. As in the printed review, the ’05 was my benchmark for this one – it’s fruit driven,  smooth,  just tannic enough and a tasty accompaniment to any meal.
Top White
Fielding unoaked Chardonnay  2012 279 cases -$14.95 – Pure, tasty fruit for grilled fish or to accompany summer pasta salads. Take this one over the rosés (one of Brad and Angelina’s excepted, perhaps).
An Easy Three from The Italian Feature
Villa Mora – Montefalco Sagrantino. $19.95 – 1299 cases - If only because it’s so close in name to Villa Nora. Those of you who understand that joke will get this one!
Taurasi Villa Raiano 2008 $23.95- 249 cases An Aglianico, even though this one has some age, it may be less approachable than the next from Puglia.
Girolamo Capo di Gallo Aglianico 2011 – $18.95 - 298 cases- younger by three vintages than the Taurasi, look for black fruits to dominate the palate but I think you’ll find some licorice notes too. Decant it.
Big Bucks
Chateau Ste. Michelle Canoe Ridge Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 $34.95 – 223 cases of 6– Overpriced in our market but a very nice wine.  From a specific vineyard in the H3 region, this one’ll be an interesting counterpoint  to the  recently released  Ste. Michelle Indian Wells and the CC H3.  Given the option, you can buy three CC H3’s for less than two of these.
Kenwood Jack London Cabernet 2010 - $39.95 – 269 cases of 6 - Almost as good as the Ste Michelle but even more expensive for what you get.

Chateau Fortia Cuvee du Baron 2010 - $38.95 – 219 cases– Big, bold, but there have been as good CdP’s this year for less.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

August 3rd - I'm hoping there'll be a surprise or two but it doesn't look good!

Aug.03, 2010. The dreary releases of the summer continue with very few selections that make us want to race out and part with our hard earned dollars. Are there any ‘must buy’ wines in this release? In a word, One.
The VRSS staggers in at 54 points.

Pinks and Whites
Alain Jaume Domaine Grand Veneur Cotes du Rhone rosé - $14.95 – As summer rolls on, here’s another nice selection for the back deck.
Ken Forrester Chenin Blanc 2011-$17.95 – Last year’s release was very good. A refreshing, light  accompanyment to grilled tuna, or grilled veggies in goat cheese perhaps.
The Reds
If you’re a fan of reasonably priced Cabs, three leap out at me.
Santa Carolina Reserve de Famiglia Cab Sauv $17.95 (139 cases) and Montes Alpha Cab Sauv $19.95 – (1009 cases)  Two different takes on the same wine from  two different Chilean vintners. Both are good for the price and will accompany anything on the ‘Q.
D’Arenberg The High Trellis Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 - $19.95 – (319 cases) D’Arenberg seems to have fallen on hard times over the last few years. Their Dead Arm certainly does not generate the excitement it once did. The High Trellis continues to provide ample pleasure around the BBQ and is well priced.
Zonte’s Footsteps ‘The Lake Doctor’ Shiraz Viognier 2010 – (639 cases) A bargain at $16.95
Barone Riccasoli Rocco Guiciarda  Chianti Classico 2010 –$24.95  (599 cases) Always a nice food wine. On its own, less than thrilling but with a meal, it shines. Decant it for sure.
Big Bucks
St. Hallet Blackwell Shiraz - $34.95 – (383 cases of 6) Ignore the James  Halliday score, as usual it’s just too good to be true. However, the wine is a big bruiser that’ll provide ample pleasure in the right context and in the right crowd.
Raymond reserve Selection Cabernet $37.95 – Quality from Cali.

Cameron Hughes Lot 257 Cabernet - $34.95. Did you like their Lot 285? If so, try this one. If not, save your $$’s.

Monday, July 15, 2013

July 20th Vintages release.

July 20th  already!!!  Hot and wet means the time passes quickly, I suppose. This week’s primary Vintages  feature is “BBQ and Outdoor Entertaining” wines which I presume will go well with mosquitoes after all our rain. The second feature is Cool Climate Chardonnays.  I think they stretched the limits of what cool climate means in order to put together this group of wines.
The VRSS merits 64 to 68 points. Some “I must buy!” wines in this one and overall it is better than many have been lately. The problem will be finding the 'must buys' in any of the LCBO stores.
Whites, Roses and Fizzies
The Hamilton Russell Chardonnay 2011 is almost a cult chard that comes in at $32.95. Seems like a lot but if the label said Napa, this’d be $65 easy. There are only 150 cases of 6 coming to the province so cuddle up to your consultant, hope the central ordering system graces your local store with a healthy supply, and get there early!
Simonsig  Chenin Blanc at $12.95. Light, but full of flavour, halibut burgers strike me as the perfect match!
Cordoniu Pinot Noir Brut Rose Cava -$16.95 – 879 cases of 6 – From Spain  $16.96 - Bright Pink and fizzy, this’ll accompany spicier foods nicely or work well as an aperitif.
There are a few good reds, many under $20.
Casamatta Sangiovese 2011 – $14.95 – 698 cases - From the renowned and sometimes politically incorrect  producer Bibi Graetz   (if you’ve been to Florence and dined at the Golden View, you’ll know.).  I expect this to be good and disappear fast.  
Columbia Crest Grand Estates Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 – $17.95 – 599 cases – Since I’m in Ontario, at this price  I’d back up the truck except I know that in the next release or two the H3 cabernet will be  making another appearance so I’ll hedge my bets.  I like this wine a lot with anything red.
M. Chapoutier Occultum Lapidem 2010 - $24.95 – 199 cases – nice vintage, quality wine. A WS and RP fave although I prefer others from the region (for less $’s). Inflated score from Parker means you better be ready to fight for this one!
Roman Duvernay Vacqueyras 2010 $26.95 – 349 cases-  Fruit’ll burst from the glass in this rich and fulfilling sample from the southern Rhone.  Let the others fight over the Occultum Lapidem,  you can be quite happy with this option.
Mazzei Baddiola 2010 $18.95 - 599 cases -  A 92 pointer that will do better with food but can also be enjoyed on its own.
Cerro Anon Riserva 2006 - $17.95 – 599 cases-A blend of the best of Spain, tempranillo, grenache and mazuelo, this’ll be full and round with tapas.  
Vizcarra Senda del Oro Roble 2011 - $17.95 –629 cases- Tempranillo from the Ribeiro del Duero, this one is tucked away on its own page and might be the sleeper of the release. Certainly  Mr. Parker raved about it!
Cathedral Cellars Tryptich 2008 - $15.95 – 500 cases of this very popular, well priced, well made, South African red blend.
Small Gully ‘The Formula’ Shiraz 2008 -$18.95 – The number of cases (1669) in this release  is a testament to the popularity of this wine. Big, BBQ burger, grilled anything kind of wine!

Big Bucks
Fantina Cascina Dardi Bussia Barolo Riserva 2004 - $39.95 – With 9 years on it, this one is entering its primetime.  Very well scored by Anthony Galloni.
Domus Vitae Brunello  di Montalcino 2007 – $45.95 - Wonderful vintage. I’m not familiar with this one.
Mollydooker Blue Eyed Boy 2009 - $55.95 – Shiraz, big shiraz. 139 cases of 6. Always scores over 90 in the American wine mags. Not for the faint of heart.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Vintages July 6th Release - The dog days of summer come early?

July 6th Vintages Release provides 4 features – the first is California, the second Pure Pleasure – a white wine compendium of fresh and fruity flavours (Take that you LCBO alliterationists), a Niagara on the Lake tourist feature and last but not least  a page containing 12 limited production/ release Ontario wines. Funny thing about this last one though. These wines ‘won’t be on your Vintages shelves’.  You have to go to the LCBO link in the Vintages catalogue  (well actually you have to go four clicks from the link) to find the stores that might be carrying each of these wines. Really? Whose brain child was this? As of this writing on June 25th, the wines are already in store and available so you can be sure the demand for most of them can be best described as tepid. I think Gord Stimmel wrote about them in last weekend’s Star too.
Back to the wines in the release.  It would appear that this one is a return to the mediocrity to which we have become accustomed.  The release works very hard to score only 64 points in the VRSS.  Those of you pressed for time can turn to page 42 for the best (or is that the only good?) single page in the release.  If they are to your tastes, the five wines on the page should provide good QPR value. In a bizarre Big M tribute (or maybe it was to Darryl Sittler?) two of them were #27 on the Wine Enthusiast’s Top 100 wines of the year for ’11 and ’12.
Kung Fu Girl Evergreen Reisling 2011 – $18.95 – 279 cases - Sweet on the fore palate but with sufficient acidity to balance the sweetness, I quite like this wine. So does my 20 year old daughter.  My wife? Not so much. Buy accordingly.
Chateau Ste. Michelle Indian Wells Cabernet Sauvignon - $25.85 – 167 cases. This one is a favourite of mine in spite of the fact that the LCBO has the Indian Wells Cab overpriced by between eight and ten dollars. Spice, black fruit- currants especially, hints of cedar.
Dandelion Vineyards Lionheart of the Barossa – $20.95- 767 cases- A big Barossa Shiraz that has become quite popular here in Ontario. Peppery, black fruit, nice hints of licorice, and for you visual marketing types, a very classy label.
Mazzei Ser Lapo Chianti Classico 2008 $24.95 – 599 cases of 6 – Well scored, 93 points from James Suckling but remember this is James Suckling, Web Wine Guy, not the JS of the Wine Spectator. The ’06 and ’07 of this wine were very good. You can do far worse in this release.
Pinyolet Garnacha 2011- $17.95 – 499 cases - Grenache, so expect big raspberry aromas and flavours. Mr. Parker’s review reads like one for a big southern Rhone bargain!
Vina Olabarri Gran Reserva 2004 $24.95 – 279 cases - A Rioja for you fans of the genre.
Cameron Hughes Lot 285 Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 - $29.95 – 299 cases – I had to work very hard to find something worthwhile in the Cali feature of the release. This wine could be very good or less than average. At this price it had better be very good.  
There are eight rosés in this release. My picks are two west coast options and an Ontarian. Try  the See Ya Later Ranch Nelly 2011 or the Charles and Charles  2012 rosé or the Featherstone 2012 at $16.95, $15.95  and $14.95 respectively.
BIG Bucks
Spend ‘em if you’ve got ‘em –
Mastrojanni Brunello di Montalcino 2007 – $49.95 - Very well scored and age worthy! Galloni and Suckling liked it a lot!
Xavier Cuvee Anonyme Chateauneuf du Pape 2009 - $59.95 – Parker says 96 points. Give it a few years in a quiet dark place before you try to find out!

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

June 22nd Vintages Release - The Southern Rhone, South Africa and Canada Day

June 22nd was hoped to be a superior release if only because it focuses on three recent vintages of wines from the Southern Rhone. By now most of you are aware of my preference for the wines produced there. Sharing the focus this week are a few nondescript South Africaners. The Vintages crew could have done so much better there! Also included are some Canada Day options.
For easy week night suppers or pizza Fridays, it’s hard to beat a good, well priced, Cotes du Rhone Villages. For bigger more special meals, Gigondas or Vacqueyras will always fill the bill. And for the real meal deal, especially if you have a restaurant that will allow you to bring your own wine, a Chateauneuf du Pape from 11 of the last 13 years will give great pleasure. Avoid 2002 and drink 2008 early if you already have it. Otherwise, avoid that year too.

Overall, the release is perhaps the strongest one this year and pointwise it easily makes it into the mid-70's. So let’s dive in and see what awaits us. The southern Rhone options are OK, but two of my  top three value picks  are from Washington St and OZ

Rhones under $30
Of the 2010’s the Domaine Coudoulis Lirac 2010 at $17.95 should be a nice bargain if it comes anywhere near to the Alain Jaume offering from the same village.
The Croix Valong is well priced at $15.95 and should be ready to drink asap.
Among the 2011’s the Ferme du Mont Cotes du Rhone Villages at $17.00 should be $15.00 if the LCBO wanted to fulfill Ontario consumers and not just its coffers.
The Ortas Estellan Gigondas is really well priced at $19.95. I’ll recommend it on price alone.
Domaine St. Gayan Gigondas 2009 - $29.95 – Almost creeping into CNdP pricing, this’ll be nice but for about a buck more you might want to investigate the general list’s Southern  Rhone CndP options.
My  other Southern Rhone picks have slipped into the big buck category so look for them there.
The Other Under $30 reds
Waterbrook Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 –$19.95 -  Until now this is an almost unseen producer here in Ontario. If you like the Columbia Crest Grand Estates or  H3 lines, you should be all over this one!
Three Rings Shiraz 2008 - $19.95 – Among the better buys in the release.
The Hedonist Shiraz 2009 – $23.95 - From the McLaren Vale, disregard the 94 points but do regard the award as Australia’s Best Exported Wine for 2011. Considering over 14,000 wines are exported and all were tasted, this is quite a coup for Walter Clappis.
Peter Lehmann Layers STMG – 2010 – Shiraz, tempranillo, mourvedre and Grenache. At $17.95 this is a worthy choice instead of the Cotes du Rhone s offered in this release.
Finca el Origen Gran Reserva Malbec  2010 - $21.95 – Big burly malbec looking for something red and grilled.
Concha Y Toro Marques de Casa Concha Syrah 2009 $19.95 – Above average syrah – a nice new world counterpoint to the Aussies above.
Chateau Los Boldos Vielles Vignes 2010 – $18.95 and 5 stars from Decanter but Not well known to me. Chilean Cabs can be  an acquired taste – some exhibit green flavours.
Calliope Figure 8 Red 2010 – $22.95- Syrah and merlot from the folks who bring you the hyped and highly priced Burrowing Owl.  Both are a rare sight here in Ontario.
Chateau Maris La Touge Minervois La Liviniere Syrah 2009 - $19.95 – An option for you syrah fans (and old fans of the Yankees or baseball in general )out there. Put the empty above your fireplace and reunite Mantle and Maris! Oh I kill myself sometimes!
Vina Eguia Reserva 2007 - $17.95 - Well priced but not as well priced as it could be. This one was available for $10 in the U.S.

The Whites and Pinks
Vinum Africa Chenin Blanc 2011 - $15.95 – Seeking something different from the normal  Chardonnay or Pinot Grigio options for your summer guests? A worthy option here to be sure! If not, try the following pair.
Flat Rock Unplugged Chardonnay 2012 $16.95 – A fine sample of Ontario fruit – no toast, no smoke, just cold climate fruit.
Sileni Pinot Gris Cellar Selection 2011 - $17.95 – For those fans of Pinot Gris or even Pinot Grigio, here’s a  viable selection to please their palates.
Muralhas de Moncao Rose 2012 - $`12.95, just off sweet and with a touch of spritz to it. Younger palates might enjoy this one.
Chateau Montcontour Cuvee Predilection Brut Vouvray 2010 – $18.95 Not overly dry, this’ll be a nice summer sipper for BBQ’d salmon, shrimp or chicken skewers or on it’s own as an aperitif.
The Big Bucks

Grant Burge Corryton Park Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 – At $32.95 this one creeps into the Big Bucks zone but is worthy of your consideration. Halliday’s score of 96 is probably 3 or 4 points high, but 92 or 93 is still an impressive score.
Of the Chateauneuf du Papes available in the release, ageworthyness seems to be the key to the pricing of them. So if you figure you won’t be around to be drinking them 20 years from now, why bother spending the extra dollars?
Chateau Mont Redon 2009 - $39.95 – Will be ready to drink within a year, or after being decanted for some time.
Vieux Clocher Symphonie Les Galets 2009 – $34.95 - Bigger burly style. No wimpy wine here to be sure.
Between the 2010 Chateauneufs, I’ll go for the Chateau La Nerthe for a few dollars over the Domaine de la Charbonniere. My experience with the La Nerthe is that I have really enjoyed it 8 to 12 years from vintage dates. The Charbonniere? Always good, but not quite so enjoyable.